Wednesday, August 29, 2012

DUDE! Get On That Already!: Making a DIY Pot Rack

You know those projects that have been hanging on your to-do list so long you barely recognize them as words anymore? Those things you leave shut tight behind a closed door hoping one day they will fix themselves or just disappear? Dude! Get On That Already! The challenge created by the good folks at Young House Love, to clean out those spaces that are filled with unfinished projects and un-used decor. Join in! What are you going to finish this week?
We started building a pot rack in MARCH! Took a few measurements, bought the supplies in April, started with the hole drilling, and there it sat waiting to be painted all summer long. Finally I got around to it the other day. So here's my step-by-step tutorial.

Step 1: Take measurements. Decide where you want the thing to hang. Make sure it won't be hanging where anyone is likely to bang their head, nor block line of sight in the middle of a social common area. Remember that you need to measure this including the actual pots that will be hanging down! And also that it will require you to hang into joists. Now is not the time to be counting on the stability of drywall anchors.

Step 2: Purchase ingredients (are they called ingredients when it's DIY and not a recipe? I swear I'm responsible, please don't confiscate my power drill!). You will need:
  • A wooden board. Here we are using a "2x2" that is 1.25 inches square. Yes, it drives me insane too. It was purchased as an 8 foot long board, cut in half.
  • Hooks! As many as you need, given appropriate spacing for the pots you want to hang. Be sure the hooks will support the pots/pans without bending, and will fit through all the holes. This project has 9 hooks.
  • 2 Eye bolts: Get the ones with nuts on the end, and make sure it will go completely through the wood with room to put the nut on. Our are rated for 120 lbs each.
  • 2 Ceiling hooks: Get the sturdiest ones you can find or that are reasonable. Ours are rated for 60 lbs each.
  • 2 S-hooks: For connecting the chain to the eye bolts. Make sure it will fit both of these holes. 
  • 2 lengths of Chain: Make sure you can hook this over the ceiling hook. Get the length that you want to be between your pot rack and the ceiling when you hang. Remember you can shorten later if needbe. Get longer if you're afraid you may have measured too short. Ensure that the chain is rated at least to the weakest weight of the eye bolts and ceiling hooks. This will be a lighter-feeling weight than you think.
Steps 3 & 4: Measurements! & Drilling. Definitely do this before painting. It makes your life easier because if you screw up the marks, you don't need to worry about them being visible.

I measured the holes for the eye bolts 1 inch in from the ends. Since the eye bolts are going all the way through, so do the holes. Then I figured out the proper placement for each of the 9 hooks, assuming:
  • 5 hooks on one side
  • 4 hooks evenly spaced between those on the opposite side
and measured them out. My mother recommended that you alternate up and down on the hooks on each individual side; I don't know how this could possibly make it more structurally sound or whether she was misunderstanding what I was doing, but if you feel like it, go for it. I drilled these so that the hooks themselves would be hanging down past the actual bottom of the wood.
* Tip: Mark one side with eyebolt holes "UP" so you don't forget which direction you need to be offsetting your hook holes.
Pot hook holes:
 Eye bolt holes:

Step 4.5: Wait 4 freaking months.

Step 5: Paint!

Now I'm going to describe to you the system to waiting the least amount of curing time between coats. I'm using latex paint, one of the mini pods from Ace hardware that covers a 4x4 area. Perfect for these kinds of projects! My internet research was confirmed by my mom, that the paint needs to cure 2-4 hours between coats. As I was painting outside and letting it cure in the sun on a hot day, I opted for 2 hours between coats. I think it could have cured longer between coats even in these conditions, so you may want to opt for closer to 4 hours. So assuming you're painting on newspaper-covered saw horses like me, you will need to: 
  • Sand all sides, and take the sharpness off the end corners. 
  • Wipe down with a cloth. 
  • Starting with UP facing, well, UP we are going to call that side B. Paint sides A, B and C (with side D being the one resting on the sawhorse), as well as the ends. 
  • Cure time! Wash your brush, let it dry.
  • Remove stuck on newspaper, sand, wipe;
  • Rotate so that side A is down (Clean cup! Everybody move one seat down), paint a second coat on the ends, sides B & C, and a first coat on D. 
  • Cure time! Wash your brush, let it dry.
  • Remove stuck on newspaper, sand, wipe.
  • Rotate so that side B is down (Clean cup! Move down!). But a second coat on sides D & A. 
  • Lean against the sawhorse on one of the dried ends, so that it doesn't get newspaper stuck to it again.
  • Let cure 24-48 hours.
Step 6: Install relevant hardware! We are hanging ours in a spot that we know just HAS to have a joist above it, because it is the frame for the drywall to the lowered ceiling. It's a small gamble that we won't be hitting any electrical wiring; I could go into why we don't think so, but really, it's boring. Still, worth considering and checking out if you can.

Step 7: Cover any kitchen stuff that may get dusty from flying drywall. 

 Step 8: Take one last "before" picture...
 Then hang the hooks!

Step 9: We hang the chain between the sets of hooks, and voila! It is installed! Like so:

And you can see that the door opens fully when no pots are in the way, so that should be fine. 

Pots and pot holders put away! This freed up an entire huge drawer in the kitchen, and gave us someplace to hang the wok which has been living in the garage for the last 5 months and driving me batty. 

It has made the kitchen seem a little smaller when you're standing in it, because there is now definitive delineation between the kitchen and the nook. It's not horrible though!
It's kind of nice.

So that's the story of my $25 pot rack.
What have you been up to? Any projects hanging over your head that you have (or haven't) gotten finished? Any fun DIY stuff you've got going on?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Menu: Aug 26-Sept 2

More updates to our little organizational white board!

We added such things as breakfast and the weather forecast. I kept checking the forecast for the week when I was making the to-do list, and I got tired of being asked at completely inconvenient times what the weather was supposed to be like today. So I decided to include a basic weather forecast for the week, and Mum suggested we put it in the empty space next to the dates. Win! So we did.

I also started including breakfast ideas into the menu plan. No one else really needed lunch planned out so half that area was wasted space anyway. Having things planned makes it easier to eat those meals that are difficult for me to make decisions about because I always wait too long to eat them. If I ask Mr. Moon to go make breakfast, we don't have to spend half an hour going through the same conversation over and over again ("What do you want?" I don't know. [we both futz around online for a few minutes.] I'm hungry, would you please go make breakfast? "What do you want?" I don't know... [more internetz time.] My blood sugar is crashing, just f-ing be an adult and make a decision and cook something because you know I can't right now! And then half the time I'm too sick to eat it.)... Yeah. Because that's not going to frustrate EVERYONE. Not least because I know it's irrational to bitch about HIM not being able to make a decision when I can't either. Bah. Humbug.

So, breakfast has a plan. We also updated our seasonal to-do list! Thanks to that running to-do list we've got going on over here on the blog, I was able to parse out what was imminently doable and what needs to wait, and get it on the list. There was so much stuff to do for the garden that it got its own column. And I also had started a list of food-things I want to try making at home, so that got a list. It's so colorful!
What's on the menu this week?
We have a family funeral this week, so as I mentioned last week we wanted a menu that is easy on the cooking, easily expandable, and best of all: Cheap. Contributing to the needs of the menu is that both freezers are packed reasonably full at the moment, as we have stocked up on a number of things that still need to be used. Not least of all the fact that I ended up with two different giant batches of marinara sauce in there so that we have an entire shelf devoted to it in the large freezer. The equivalent of 1/2 to 3/4 of your average sized in-home freezer. There's a lot of sauce there.

So Italian is on the menu weekly for a while.

We also just bought 10 lbs of salmon on a great sale, and attempted with moderate success to vacuum-seal it. Salmon will also be a regular feature for a while. It's just too bad I don't see the two working out together in the same meal.

But I digress! What did we decipher for a menu that is cheap, easy, flexible, expandable, uses up as much as we can of freezer stock, and is still pretending to make an attempt at vegetarianism?

Today: A vegetarian success story! Mac & Cheese that has veggies in it. I made one loaf pan for the four of us for dinner; froze another whole loaf pan and 4 mini loaf pans of single-serving sizes! I didn't have enough cheese for it all, so the frozen ones need a layer of cheese on top once they're half done, but still a lot easier than making them to-order.

Breakfast: Leftover pancakes, waffles, and quiche frozen from other breakfasts.
Lunch: NO IDEA!
Dinner: Scraps of wilty veggies that need to GTFOut of my way but will make a great stir-fry. Oh, and one Mr. Moon gets the last serving of leftover chicken in his.

Breakfast: Beans and rice (leftovers from freezer); topped with cilantro, and a couple soft-cooked eggs with hot sauce.
Lunch: Turkey wrap.
Dinner: Leftovers from a banquet meal, breaded and fried veal & chicken cordon bleu, not labeled confidently as to which is which when they were frozen so it's kind of a mystery meat meal, but both have already made good parmigiana.

Busy cleaning day!!
Breakfast: Easy eggs and toast.
Lunch: Easy quesadilla.
Dinner: Possibly going out for a family dinner, possibly having the family over for dinner. We picked stuff that can be cooked from their current state (mostly, frozen) so that if we opted to go out then nothing would be thawed out and going bad.

Funeral early enough that Mr. Moon and I are rarely even awake at that time, let alone pressed and dressed and in a church. So breakfast needed to be quick and easy.
Breakfast: Parfait, made the night before with homemade granola that is too chewy to eat a whole bowl.
Lunch: At the church.
Dinner: Having family back at the house, ordering pizza; we're going to make a simple salad and some peach cobbler to get rid of some canned peaches and cool whip taking up space. Might make it peach crisp since I have an overabundance of oatmeal to use up.

Breakfast: Biscuits (fresh) and gravy (freezer).
Lunch: Turkey club sandwich.
Dinner: Split pea soup (freezer) and sandwiches (with lunchmeat from freezer).

Breakfast: Another parfait because they're sooo good. And easy.
Lunch: Grilled cheese, because it's something my tummy doesn't mind me making myself.
Dinner: Mum is making her favorite tilapia (freezer) & stewed tomatoes recipe for herself and Pops. Mr. Moon and I are having steaks (freezer) and whatever veggies we can find.

Breakfast: Biscuits and gravy again, if there is enough.
Lunch: Tuna! Stella's favorite.
Dinner: Everybody is on their own. Usually this means Mr. Moon and I make a dinner plan the day before, either going out if the money is good enough or doing something delectable with whatever we have in house. Because the entire week is full of scraps, leftovers, and freezer stuff, there won't be a lot of leftovers to use for this. We may be getting extra creative, or eating pot pies [or in the future, this is what those single serving broccoli mac & cheeses, mini casseroles, etc. are supposed to be for--nights when no one wants to cook, no dinner plan is made, and no one wants to go out--homemade TV dinners!]. Or we may be going bowling. Not rightly sure yet.

As always, breakfasts and lunches are largely interchangeable. Though this week the breakfasts are calculated for maximum timing efficiency and minimum spoilage, so it's a bad week to skip around. Maybe it's the control freak in me, but I feel much more able to deal with the week knowing I won't be wasting time and energy every morning trying to get myself fed.
I've linked up to Menu Plan Monday, go check out the list of links for some awesome menu ideas!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mornings & Insomnia: On the topic of making important mornings a little less brutal

Morning and I, we are not friends. We tolerate each other well enough, as long as we don't spend too much time together, but the earliest I'm willing to wake up without complaint seems to be about 9am. This pretty much means that the earliest I'm willing to make appointments or plans is noon, and that's kind of pushing it. I'd prefer to be waking up then.

That being said, for some reason when it comes to things like Celtic festivals and the like, waking up at 6am and out the door by 7am is a challenge but not a hardship. I usually pay for it, and two days in a row is nearly impossible, but it's worth it to walk through the dewy grass with a cup of coffee and the sound of bagpipes on the wind. 

Lately I've been having a terrific bout of insomnia that even melatonin can't touch. Especially when I try to go to bed at midnight because I have to drive Mr. Moon to work for 9am. Neither one of us wants to be up this early, and both of us had trouble falling asleep last night. This morning is a bit rough, to say the least.

After Mr. Moon crawled in bed last night, I grabbed the window crayons that I use for labeling glass kitchen containers. I sneaked off to the bathroom and wrote a cheerful "Good Morning!" on the mirror, a wonderful "I love you!" on the side wall of the shower (the one he would see immediately upon opening the curtain), and a badly-drawn Batman symbol on the back wall which he would be facing while standing under the hot water, desperately trying to wake up. No, you may not see pictures of my terrible Batman symbol.

The smile on his face this morning was worth the early wake-up call. Having left for his shower trying not to take his grump out on me, he came back still giggling and praising my awful Bat rendition. It definitely set him off on the right foot to start an early morning shift serving brunch, which he hasn't done in a good long while (and never at this job).

I was so glad to be able to do something to start his day off with a smile. For me, having quit habitual consumption of caffeine years ago, indulging in a little half-caf java on those awful, early mornings is enough to take the grump out of my morning. He's not a coffee drinker though, so I had to think of something else! I can just see myself sending my kids to school many, many years from now, and starting the school year off with mirror notes on their first days. It's a tradition I wouldn't mind starting sooner with such events as the first day at a new job, interviews, etc. All the big days where one needs a little boost in confidence. And there is something to be said for writing little notes to remind one's self to pick up an important notebook or remember the lunch in the fridge, when you know you're going to be leaving while still a little bleary-eyed.

Window crayons, dry/wet erase markers, sticky notes... whatever you use, take the opportunity to make someone's morning a little brighter tomorrow. You and your family are worth it!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Was it something I said?

I told Mr. Moon that I would like to grow an aloe vera plant. He asked me, "what is its natural habitat?"

"It likes water and dirt."

Apparently this was not the right answer?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Menu Planning Strategy

There are 7 days in a week, right?

Here are our goals for meal planning, in no particular order:

1: Fish day
2: Vegetarian days
2: Freezer meals
1: Salad day
1: Crockpot meal
1: Hearty meat dinner
2: Fend For Yourself days
2: Batch meals

But that's 11 days! Oh noes! Let's see how that breaks down into a week. Remember, days are fluid but let's use them anyway for illustration purposes.

Monday: Vegetarian Batch Crockpot meal
Tuesday: Salad
Wednesday: FFYS
Thursday: Hearty Meat Batch Dinner--roast or crockpot
Friday: Fish
Saturday: Vegetarian Freezer Meal
Sunday: FFYS

That... was actually a lot harder than it looks. But I got all the requirements! I kind of want to put that goals chart above right onto my white board, so I don't forget what we're trying to accomplish--so I don't forget to plan meals that can be frozen easily, so I don't forget to schedule something to be pulled from the freezer. We'll see. Maybe I'll just write it out on a card that gets pulledout during our meeting. Hmmm...

What do you do to make sure your menu plans meets all your family's requirements?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Menu Plan: Aug 19-26

Do you ever have one of those weeks where you make plans, and then they get dashed completely, so you make other plans, and those change too? It's Tuesday and I have adjusted our menu plan for the week three times already. That's why I haven't gotten a menu blog up yet! But I may as well post it, regardless of what else changes.

Part of the problem is that Pops refuses to participate in the weekly menu planning. We ask him if he has any requests, and he says no (or sometimes asks for a roast or something). We ask if there are any plans this week and he says no. Then suddenly the dinner that was planned for 7pm needs to be switched to 6 or 9 because he has a meeting to go to, or the day planned for leftovers requires a more constructed meal because they're having guests over for cards or they've decided to go out. When these things result in whatever was planned got getting eaten, it also results in more waste than I'm comfortable having. It's frustrating.

It's also difficult for me to accept that some of these decisions are not personal. For example, cooking a meal that he's requested or been excited about in the past, then having it go uneaten because he opts for going out to Carls Jr. instead. On both sides of my family, feeding people is a way to say you care for them. Having that rejected feels like a personal rejection, either of my food choices, my skill, or my love/caring for that person. Even though I know, logically, that's not it at all.

Since many of these choices seem to be on days where leftovers or vegetarian meals are planned, I find myself trying to create work-arounds to avoid the situation being repeated, or at least to avoid wasted food. I tell myself that at least part of it is him being reluctant to accept a partially-vegetarian diet--even if he ate these meals before, he's now keenly aware that they are vegetarian and rebelling against them. And I know part of it is simply him refusing to "relinquish" control of his schedule by refusing to share it. When one has been living a certain way for a long time, adapting is frustrating and difficult. I don't blame him for that! Even when it's frustrating to the rest of us.

Fortunately, as Mr. Moon and I were discussing this, venting and brain storming, I realized that working around these issues actually is a natural result of successfully accomplishing some other goals: Namely, batch cooking and scheduling regular freezer-meals. When those meals can be cooked from frozen, there is no wasted food if they get swapped for a night on the town. When we cook meals in appropriate portions, there are no leftovers to worry about going bad. And when we cook in batches to freeze all leftovers as a matter of course, the same result: no leftovers to spoil.

This week is sort of an in-between week, dealing with these frustrations and only partially enacting a new plan. We'll get to the new plan after this week's menu because my brain is insisting I write the entry in a past-present-future sense. Seems as good an idea as any.

We had a lovely chicken dinner with some out of town guests on Sunday--a Thanksgiving-type meal. I'd been craving for weeks. Monday, Mum & Pops went out to dinner with said guests. Tonight is a low-key night of soup and sandwiches, maybe leftovers from their dinner, I don't know. It's more Fend For Yourself.

Tomorrow,  split pea soup in the crockpot with homemade chicken broth and aging bacon--I'm leaving out my customary turkey leg because of the expense when I can make a perfectly delightful soup with ingredients on hand.

Ravioli has been a migrating dinner as changes have been made the last couple days, but it's set for Thursday. As the only whole wheat ravioli I've found is super expensive, I'll be having spaghetti while everyone else has ravioli from the freezer. This is one of those freezer meals I was discussing, if it doesn't happen there's no harm done.

Salmon is on sale this week, and we've all been craving it. So a nice, light, baked salmon dinner is in the works for Friday when Mr. Moon will be home to bake it.

Saturday, another crockpot meal with leftovers, my ever-changing tortilla soup. It's become apparent that the only thing in this soup that's perishable that we own right now is the leftover pulled chicken, so this may become a different freezer meal night. Who knows?! But it needs to be easy since Mr. Moon works a late shift.

Sunday, an out of town family member will be getting here. We're not sure what time his flight is due, but we are under the impression from Pops that the guest will not be joining us for dinner. Mum is convinced he will be, so we compromised on making a meal that is easily expandable: Broccoli Mac & Cheese. This is also something we can freeze leftovers into portion sizes, so even if we make extras and no one eats them, nothing should go to waste.

Next week, we have a lot of family coming into town for a funeral of Mr. Moon's beloved grandmother. The funeral itself is on Thursday, the brothers get in the day before, but we don't know what times or what days to expect them to eat here. Flexibility will be required, and this would have been a perfect time to have a stock of meals on hand that could go from freezer to oven. Alas, it's not to be. Mr. Moon and I are going to have to spend some time before our menu meeting taking an inventory and brainstorming some simple meals that will leave plenty of time for socializing with out of town family and being able to feed them as necessary. We are also hoping that by Sunday we will have any idea what day, if any, we may be hosting a family get-together. So next week's menu should be interesting. Plus I'm considering revamping the white board a little bit. Brain storming in progress.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Recipe: Vinaigrette tutorial

A friend was needing vinaigrette ideas, so I wrote this out for her, and as I got into it I realized it's totally blog material. So I thought I'd save it in case I need to share it again!

A traditional vinaigrette is: 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar (and some mustard, salt and pepper). That means that if you want to make 2 cups of dressing, put in 1 1/2 cups of oil and 1/2 cup of vinegar. But the 3:1 ratio works at any quantity. Apple cider or white vinegar is best as a staple.

To pick your oil: Olive and canola oil are the two most popular for dressings. Corn oil is also fine, especially if you'll be cooking. If you want to use a flavored oil, stick to 1/3 flavored oil and the rest

With that quantity in mind, add about 1/2 tbs of mustard, any kind EXCEPT yellow, dijon is preferred--this is to help the oil and vinegar stay together (called emulsifying) and is thus an integral part of the dressing, so if you're going to omit it for any reason, you may want to include something else to help it emulsify--garlic helps, as does honey and egg yolk.

Add any seasonings you want, in whatever quantities you desire, though if you use a lot of dried seasonings you may need to add a little extra water for consistency. I'll list a few favorite combinations below. Be sure to add a little salt and a lot of pepper, and burn a few calories shaking very well.

This will stay in the fridge for ages, and is safe in the counter for a few days. Typically, store-bought dressings have hydrogenated oils (trans fats!) in them so they stay liquid even in the fridge. Using non-hydrogenated oils, you will need to let this sit out at room temp for 5-15 minutes before shaking and pouring, so the oils can melt.

If you ever feel it needs to be sweeter, try adding a little apple juice or apple sauce; failing that, any fruit juice or puree will do, but will be more likely to change the flavor.

Flavor combos!
Italian dressing: minced or powdered garlic & onion, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, (I like adding parsley and marjoram and thyme too, but they are less necessary).

Ranch: Garlic, sage, oregano, pepper, and if you really want you can add a little buttermilk, but even without you get a kind of ranchy-flavor.

Sesame Soy: Substitute up to 1/3 of the oil (half cup in our example, though 1/4 cu would probably suffice) with sesame oil; add a few dashes of soy sauce, plus some dried ginger, pepper, garlic, and cumin. For a more gingery dressing, use fresh ginger.

Taco Salad dressing: Put in a couple dashes of tapatio or chipotle tabasco sauce; add cumin, chili pepper, garlic, onion powder, cilantro (dried or fresh), and red pepper flakes.

Strawberry/raspberry/fruit: Add a dollop (1 tbs or less) of your favorite jam. Or, 1/4 of fruit puree for our two-cup recipe (of course then it will be more than 2 cups ;).

Fruit Balsamic: replace 1/3-1/2 of the vinegar with balsamic vinegar, and add jam/puree as above.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Smile Time: Care Package from my Mommy came in!

I think she missed the memo that I was craving Dad's scones and my sister-in-law's Guinness Brownies. Oh, well, I am ever so grateful for what I did receive!

  • A t-shirt from the Summer Beer Festival in Depot Town's Riverside Park, Ypsilanti, Michigan.
  • A CD from one of my favorite traditional Scottish music artists, Carl Peterson.
  • Lightweight kilt socks in purple and green cotton, which feel absolutely delightful.
  • A book: 1001 ways to use, recycle, etc, average household items. 
Glancing through, I did see a few interesting points in the book, and I'm looking forward to reading it. This is right up my alley! Mr. Moon and I are considering the back of the shirt (shown here) to be a Bucket List of Michigan breweries that need touring, or at least visiting.

No beer or baked goods, but definitely items chosen with care and love.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Latest Dirt: Fall Garden is sprouting!

It's small, but it's a start.

Top to bottom: Kale, Radishes, Broccoli Raab. These are the ones that demanded lots of sun on the package, but I admit I didn't plant in rows or pay attention to how far apart they should have been planted. Of course I saved the packages, and intend to thin out to the appropriate spacing and eat the micro/baby greens. 

This is mustard. There are tiny beet sprouts, but the red against the dirt just isn't terribly visible with a camera. It just occurred to me that the mustard and broccoli had been attacked by aphids but are not near any protecting companions, so I'm going to either have to get some garlic into these beds STAT or be diligent with the garlic-pepper spray. I refuse to put mint into my raised beds, because then I'll never get rid of it!

This is the mint we harvested from the mint garden, to make room for cauliflower and carrots. Since there is absolutely no way we were going to get ALL the mint out forever and always, we just left a bunch in there and are considering it aphid repellant. We are drying an entire other bunch besides this in a basket, and I'm probably going to set the rest up to dry in the next couple days.
Mr. Moon took one of these bunches of mint into work, and they had a special on Mojitos. 
How lovely!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Menu: Aug 12-19; Everything is Fluid

Don't you just love my bad alignment in this picture? It's readable though, and I'm a bit wibbly today, so you get what you get sometimes.

You may notice there are 8 days in this instead of 7. The last couple weeks, we've done the menu plan for the week first thing in the morning, and then been stuck trying to remember what was for lunch, dinner, and our to-do list for the day. I wrote it down so I wouldn't HAVE to remember! Mr. Moon suggested re-drawing the lines and adding another Sunday at the top. Then I could erase last Sunday, write this Sunday's information in the top slot with changes as necessary, and we could go ahead with the rest of the planning. I like the way this man thinks! So I set it up.

I was a little sad to lose even the 1/8 inch that we lost in each row, it makes writing three lines in the dinner column a little difficult. On the other hand, the lunch column doesn't HAVE to be half of the meals column, so I could make the dinner meals a little wider.I just have to keep telling myself, everything is fluid. Try something, don't like it, try something else. Try something, like parts of it, keep those and tweak the rest. Try something, like it, keep it. Repeat. This may work great for us now, but perhaps not always. When it doesn't work, we'll just have to try something new. That's life in the real world, I guess.

You may notice our project section is sparse. We have two pretty big projects going right now: the garden and the garage; besides trying to get our room in order. And by "in order" I mean "in some sort of organized fashion that can be maintained." Or else we will have to designate a day each week to laundry, both washing/drying as well as folding and putting away. We keep ending up with baskets of laundry at the foot of our bed, cluttering up the room, and the desk keeps getting trashed but half of that is laziness, not actually a system problem.

Still, it's about time to re-up the project list from our master plan, get some idea of what we have in the future plans, and get them started.

What's to eat this week?
Today was supposed to be panzanella, but we ended up opting for grilled cheese and pasta salad instead because I realized that what we were about to make for panzanella was almost exactly like the pasta salad already in the fridge. We are headed to the east side of Washougal tonight to get some less light-polluted skies and watch the Perseid meteor shower, so I made up some roast beef & provolone wraps for a picnic dinner. 

Monday, the 'Rents are out of town until eveningtime on Tuesday. Mr. Moon and I have some steak to use up for lunch or dinner, and leftover enchiladas to eat. I've found that by writing "Leftovers" on the menu, I'm virtually guaranteeing that two things are going to happen:
  • The leftovers will not get eaten.
  • The 'Rents will make a dinner that is completely bad for you; will go out to dinner; or else not eat entirely.
So this week I'm trying something new, wherein instead of writing "leftovers" when I already know full well what will have leftovers and what won't, I'm writing in some sort of reimagining of those leftovers, or just the same thing again anyway.We had leftover enchiladas from last week, so I put that on for Monday.

If the 'Rents get home in time for dinner, they can make themselves a salad with the fresh produce Pops is picking up on the way in. (Chuck's Produce has 10% off Tuesday for seniors, so we're sending him there this week since we have a pretty big list.) We will have veggies for sides with our chicken wings, regardless of what time they get in.

Wednesday, I know we'll have leftover chicken due to the huge pack the wings got frozen into. I've been wanting a curried chicken salad wrap, so that's what I'm having for lunch. Mum is going to make a big pot roast dinner, which Pops has been looking forward to, and I have really been looking forward to green beans almondine so that's DEFINITELY happening.

Thursday, a late day at work for Mr. Moon, so we want dinner ready whenever anyone is hungry, and something we don't have to cook after he gets home from work. I saw a recipe for soup that has tomato, zucchini, white beans and basil, so I'm throwing that in the crockpot for a hearty vegetarian meal that won't heat up the whole house to make.

BCuT's are a good go-to lunch for us. Lettuce and I don't agree, so I started putting Cucumber on a BLT instead of lettuce. Bonus, I ran out of mayo and hadn't made any yet when lunchtime came around last week, and just put my sugar-free yogurt ranch dressing on. Delicious!

I've been craving home-made pizza lately, but we keep forgetting to put it on the menu. Mr. Moon has quite a bit of time off this week, so we're taking advantage with a nice homecooked, if labor intensive, pizza for all on whole wheat crust, with my homemade tomato sauce. Yum!

I've also been craving Salade Niçcoise for weeks, and the one on the menu at Mr. Moon's work is taunting me. Problem is, at $15 a plate, I know I can make it cheaper and likely more enjoyably at home. Very excited for that.

Mr. Moon and I realized that even when a lot of our meals were cooked in individual portion sizes (like enchiladas or lasagna or even pasta) with individual tastes in mind, our menu plans have had the 'Rents' tastes in food in mind much more than our own. In some ways we're eating better, in an effort to get them to eat better. In some ways, we've lost a lot of creativity and excitement (and spiciness) that we've been missing. So we're making an effort to ensure our menu plans include opportunities to spice things up, literally and figuratively, especially when we're eating at wildly different times anyway. In that vein, we had ceviche on the menu this week, but decided we would wait until we had money to splurge on some super-nice fish instead of the bargain stuff we have available right now. But the chicken wings and Niçcoise salad are a nod to that effort.

Sunday is another nod to the effort of not just writing "leftovers" on the menu. I know there will be leftover Italian soup, and if not there are cans that need to be used up. I also know there will be leftover pot roast, so we might as well pull it into shredded beef and make some sandwiches out of it. Soup and Sandwich sounds like a nice, enticing dinner, right?

Need new recipe ideas or tips on meal planning? Come join us at for Menu Plan Monday!
What's on your menu this week? Trying any new organizational systems to get your groove back? Any big conversations about home management you're having with your partners or families lately? 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Recipes: Vegetarian Sloppy Joes (Slow cooker meal)

So how do you make vegetarian sloppy joes?

First you solicit suggestions on Facebook for ideas. Someone will suggest Sloppy Joes and give you a recipe that looks... well, just too chunky and vegetable-y for your tastes. So, you will teak it slightly. Smaller chunks, more filler, etc.

Chop your veggies: Onions, bell peppers, garlic, some mushrooms would be grand here. This is the point where you need to decide just HOW vegetarian you want to make this. In our house, we are not opposed to using beef bouillon to give the illusion of beefy-ness, so there is some beef bouillon in this. I expect mushroom bouillon would do much the same, but we don't have any.

Sauté onions, peppers, and garlic until browned and starting to soften. Or, pull earlier than that because you're running short of time. Add the bouillon cubes at the last, so they soften and flavor the onions and such. I liked the pickled garlic in this, it works well in some things and not others but it definitely was nice in this dish.

Pan with diced onions, green peppers, and garlic cloves
Skip a whole lot of picture taking because, again, short on time. I put in the veggies, then 2 cups of lentils, 1 1/3 cup TVP because that's what I had but more would have been OK. Then added water, but wish I'd waited for the end on that. Anyway, one can plain tomato sauce and one can tomato paste--could have used more tomato! I'd add 2 cans of paste here, and maybe no tomato sauce at all. The recipe I had also called for chili pepper and oregano, so that made it in. Plus about... easily a third of a cup of yellow mustard, and it could have used more. 8 cups of water was a little too much, but without the watery tomato sauce and with a little more TVP it would have been OK.

Cook on high for 4 hours in the crockpot. Serve over a dinner roll, hamburger bun, the butts of bread, heck even just some bread slices. Whatever is on hand and looks good. Or, eat it out of a bowl like Mum did. Yum!

Winner, winner, Tasty dinner!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Latest Dirt: Before or After? In Progress

What We're Eating:
Peach, yogurt, and granola parfait
Made a nice yogurt parfait for breakfast yesterday.
  • 2 big dollops of plain, full-fat* Greek yogurt
  • homemade granola
  • another dollop of yogurt
  • homemade granola
  • diced peaches
 * I haven't found any low-fat/non-fat yogurt or sour cream that's not filled with extra starches. At least the fat is naturally-occurring!

I ate this sitting in the backyard on the patio, on a nice warm summer morning right before we attacked the garden. It was nice to take a moment to appreciate the work we've done already, that I could just wake up, head out there and eat my breakfast. Also, fresh and yummy!
watermelon-cucumber soup in a bowl
 Monday was so warm, we just wanted something refreshing for dinner. Enter: Cucumber-Watermelon soup!
  • Cucumber
  • Watermelon
  • Greek yogurt
  • Fresh mint
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Salt & Pepper
This is really supposed to be a "savory" soup despite the
sweet ingredients, so the pepper is essential. We used the immersion blender, but a regular blender would probably be faster for small batches--I just didn't want the extra dishes.


Before & Afters
Rose garden with geranium pots in front of a window; messy, small spots where the mulch has been raked.
We have a lot of roses. Did I mention that before? Because we do. Here shown we have 6 of them, next to another 3 to the left of this picture, which also has a Yucca plant in that bed. We are planting garlic in that section between the roses in this post; long-term/fall plan is to straighten out the front of the bed and weed the bits of grass out that have crept in.
Now, they're nice little patches of dirt with little bulbs of garlic underneath!

It was during this digging process that Mum informed us that the lot upon which this house was built had been the rock pit for the entire neighborhood as they built it. So they were kind enough to throw a few inches of dirt underneath the sod, but after 17 years that has filtered out. The rocks are not only pushing through the sod, but right underneath and throughout the yard where we need to be digging and gardening! We're starting to re-vamp some of our plans with this knowledge, and it involves a lot of buying dirt and making raised beds rather than the sweat and mediocre growing of plants without proper dirt to grow in!
Container bed by a ramp to the front door, under a newspaper box--messy, dead plants, empty disposable planter containers

These containers are forever changing. Here you can see how they looked when we started and how we fixed them up in spring. Those annuals we planted in the front of the containers have died off in the heat, so we needed to pull them out and fill that space.

And here's what it looks like now! Possibly a little bare... but Red Swiss Chard seeds are in there, waiting to germinate and grow some lovely, edible leaves throughout the fall.

Other Progress we made on Wednesday:

 Pulled the old Cilantro and sowed some seeds to try again. 

 Separated the garlic bulbs from the grassy parts...

 Then separated the edible bulbs from the planting ones! Once we planted the ones we wanted, I posted an offer on Freecycle for the rest.

 I found a ladybug, put it out on my leeks with the weird black bugs, and watched her devour a few before I wandered off. Hopefully she will make a home there and find herself some reinforcements. 

 What a lovely harvest of plums from our tree! They're soooo tart and delicious too!

Some other "before" pictures:
Two lilac bushes, one large & one small; row of short bushes behind them on the property line; flagpole in the foreground; lots of dead grass.
This bed is going to be a rose bed soon. We are taking all the roses from the bed next to the curved sidewalk below, and planting them over here so they stop catching on people's clothes. This bed is going to be a pain, and it was creating a strategy for it that we decided the best option for dealing with the rocks underneath is to just forget it and build on top of them. So that will become a raised rose bed with lilacs...

Curved row of rose bushes along a curved sidewalk between the driveway and front door; hosta plant in the foreground which may actually be a bush..

And this will become a bed with tulips and some short ground-cover flowers to make it look nice and filled in without falling all over the walk.

Mint garden, dying back; pot for transplanting mint
This mint bed is getting pulled out. Obviously, mint is going to grow back here, there's nothing to do about that. But! That's ok! Because we're going to transplant what we can into the rose bed along the front walk (below), and the rest can stick around back here to keep aphids off the cauliflower that's getting planted here, and to mitigate any smells from the compost bin that's just to the left.

Line of rose bushes along the sidewalk; lumps of mulch that has been raked to expose dirt; lots of dead grass.
So all those little mounds are where we pulled up mulch for transplanting mint. But then we realized there were bees going CRAZY for the mint flowers that have just blossomed, so we decided to leave it for a day or two and give the bees their space.

All in all, lots of progress made, a nice harvest of plums and garlic (which we got to use in our dinner!). Mr. Moon and I are pleased with the work that's been done, and excited for the plans for the next steps. Hopefully by the end of this fall, a lot of the catch-up landscaping projects will be done and we can simply enjoy them and focus on the vegetable garden next year.
How is your garden growing? Any major progress lately? Any fun landscaping projects in the works?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Latest Dirt: Mid-summer garden update

The last few weeks have been a chore. This was the beginning of the aphid infestation, around the beginning of July. It only got worse from here, as you will see.

My one, lonely garlic scape. It was delicious!

Mr. Moon would like you to know that the mint garden got as tall as his hip! It's started to die back in the heat since then, though. 

Isn't it strange how our plum tree has purple sections and red sections?
That's because of these new starts. All the new parts are green. I asked at the nursery and it was recommended that we cut all the new starts out--they will overgrow the older, likely hybridized tree that is actually giving us plums. 

Sucker bugs! Why?! Took this picture for identification by the folks at the nursery, and they said it was likely the teenager stage of some sucker bugs. Best to get rid of them, suggested just using the garden spray I had tried for the aphids.

Speaking of aphids... This is the garden as of August 3. Those tall parts are mustard that bolted and then got eaten by aphids. My poor broccoli and cauliflower died before creating anything to harvest. The leeks are struggling, but the nasturtiums are thriving! Possibly not as much as they could be.

 One day's-worth of sucker bug damage, and this is what I got. Had to pull the whole plant, poor thing.

Do you see what those aphids did to my mustard?!
 ... And my broccoli?
And my cauliflower?!

With the big group in the back yard I wanted to cover the compost pile a bit. Don't you just love this 30-second solution? I like to think of it as rustic suburban chic. Truly though, we will be using the wood from these pallets and a broken, salvaged futon frame to make a compost bin that is more easily accessed for turning and using the liquid gold.

My poor tomatoes don't know what's going on. 
 On the same plant, one looks like this...
 ... then another looks like this. Poor thing!

Apparently, if you don't water your basil it will die. WHO KNEW?

All the dead and dying removed for composting. The nasturtiums don't look so choked out by death now, and I have room to start the fall garden. 

Those poor leeks though! So sad looking. 
Maybe because of THESE? What are these?? More aphids? Time to make a new batch of garlic-pepper spray. 

Mr. Mustard looks like he's a little perturbed at the leek leaves and nasturtiums wanting to help him read his book. To me they look like little clamoring into Daddy's afternoon naptime space, just wanting to play. 

Ahhh all filled back up and a layer of compost for food. Hopefully we can get some harvest out of these hanging baskets. 


A nice (adult) pink lemonade with home-grown edible flower, and a cozy fire with friends. Seems like a wonderful way to finish off a productive, hot summer evening.

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